BWW Review: A Solid STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at Soulpepper
I wish that attending Friday night's opening of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, at Soulpepper Theatre, was the first time I'd ever seen this show. I probably would have been thrilled by the nuance, shocked by the tragedy. Weyni Mengesha's new production of the Tennessee Williams classic is a solid undertaking, a technically precise, error-free interpretation of a story we know well.
And we do it know it well: we've seen it staged countless times, including, recently, as a dance piece by the National Ballet; we've watched the classic film with Marlon Brando and enjoyed Woody Allen's 2013 update, Blue Jasmine; and, of course, we've all been moved by the Simpsons episode. A Streetcar Named Desire has a tendency to produce accidental enthusiasts - theatregoers who've seen the show half a dozen times without realising it, folks who instantly recognise the name Shep Huntleigh but, when asked directly, don't even think to list Streetcar in their top ten.
It is a tall order, then, to make something familiar stand out. Mengesha tries to leave her mark on the play; she introduces live music, soulful and bursting with energy, to mirror the passion and life of New Orleans and contrast with the nervous Blanche and her creeky polka. Set designer Lorenzo Savoini lines the stage with aluminium siding that makes a powerful ruckus at just the right moments. These innovations achieve their effect but do not leave their mark; at the end of the day, a streetcar only follows a fixed route.
And there's nothing wrong with that! Tennesee Williams's script is as powerful as it ever was; as moving, as bold, as compassionate, as violent. Audiences in 2019 might pick up on a feminist message somewhere in the Kowalski household, a kind of plea to believe women, or a warning of the dangers of the men who take their manhood too seriously. Even if you're not in the mood to be enlightened, there's so much else to seek your teeth into: the sex, the peril.
Amy Rutherford makes for an exquisite Blanche, delicate as lace soaked in bourbon. Leah Doz as Stella plays both passion and compassion, torn between her lover for her sister and her love - a very different love, but a real love, I think - for her brutish husband, Stanley. Only Mac Fyfe, as the aforementioned brute, falls a bit short of the others. He is angry but not frightening, excited but not intense, animalistic in the sense of a hissing raccoon. But then, maybe that's the point.
To anyone who has never seen Streetcar, Soulpepper's new production is a gift. For those who have seen it four or five times, this rendition offers a reliable addition to your inventory, a solid choice with which to reach that half-dozen mark. It is clever, exciting, and moving, but no more clever, exciting, and moving than the first time Blanche waited for a call from Mr Huntleigh back in 1947.
SOULPEPPER THEATRE's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE runs through OCTOBER 27 at the YOUNG CENTRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit soulpepper.ca
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz